Holes in Bottom, not Maligne Spirits, Responsible for Disappearing Water.
Science and magic have been kin throughout the ages in most every culture. What can not be explained is often invested with mystic properties. Such is the case in regard to Medicine Lake in Canada’s Jasper National Park. Medicine Lake, located between Maligne Lake and the Maligne River Canyon was legendary amongst the native Stoney Indians and early settlers as the lake that “disappears.” The Indians believed the lake vanished each autumn due to “big medicine” or magic. They feared this otherwise beautiful site in the awe inspiring mountain landscape of the Canadian Rockies.
It seems curiously fitting that Jasper National Park, largest national park in Canada, should be the home of what can be called the worlds largest niece of magic apparatus. The name Jasper is freighted with conjuring connotations. Alchemist Jasper Bamberg, reputed founder of the famed dynasty of Dutch magicians; Jasper Burlingame, pseudonym of 19th century Chicago magic dealer/author; and of course Jay “The Great Jasper” Marshall, the dean of American Magicians are some of the bearers of this mystic moniker. Although French missionaries were latter to christen the nearby Maligne Lake and Maligne River, it was the early Native Americans who gave Medicine Lake its appellation.
Ancient aboriginal shamans were the first to note the bizarre mystery of the vanishing lake. In an area thick with glaciers, lakes and rivers there was one body of water that behaved differently than all the rest. The warm weather of spring would melt snow and ice, replenishing all the waterways. Medicine Lake, a large body of water by any standard, has no visible outlet. Yet each fall it would disappear. It was not until recently that geologists determined that the lake drained away through many tiny holes in it’s bottom, feeding into a vast underground water system, perhaps the largest in the world and still mostly unexplored.
In the spring, the water table is high, manifesting Medicine Lake. As the summer progresses and the water table falls, the water in the lake, “disappears,” draining away through the many tiny holes into the underground system. Creeks and ponds fed by the underground system of which Medicine Lake is a part have a noticeably different color than those fed by the above ground Maligne Lake. The water of Maligne Lake has glacial “flour” suspended in it, causing sunlight to refract differently and give it a turquoise hue. The water that disappears from Medicine Lake is filtered of the glacial flour as it percolates underground. The fact that the underground water system fed by Medicine Lake runs parallel yet separately from the above ground Maligne River system only adds to it’s strangeness. Geologists are still investigating this mystery; one more opportunity for “big medicine” to be explained away as just one more, “big trick.”
–Richard Steven Cohn
Richard Steven Cohn has written for Genii, Magicol, M.U.M., The Yankee Collector, MAGIC, as well as magic themed articles for Brooklyn Bridge Magazine and Stagebill. He is a magical consultant for television and theater and performs both as a single and with his wife Alexandra.